The Martian (Pg-13; 141 minutes)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Drew Goddard (screenplay), Andy Weir (book)
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara
Synopsis: “During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.” –IMDB
Ridley Scott is a director that people feel is a little hot and cold. Sure he’s had some massive successes under his Scott Free production company including: Alien, Blade Runner, and American Gangster. However, he’s also put out some horribly panned films like: The Counselor, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Robin Hood, and Prometheus. So I guess audiences have come to expect a toss up when it comes to Scott’s films. Will they be good or bad? Who knows! Nevertheless we still line up to see if Scott will capture the magic again.
While I wouldn’t call The Martian a magical movie-going experience, it definitely hits a lot of high notes throughout its 141 minute runtime. In fact the film doesn’t waste any time grabbing the audience’s attention by opening with the disastrous events that lead to Mark Watney (Matt Damon) being marooned on Mars. As someone who is a little squeamish around bodily injuries and blood the first couple scenes are a bit rough but a few small staples later and Watney appears to be in great shape and I can stop covering my eyes. However, if you’re planning on seeing The Martian for a thrilling space adventure, you should probably lower your expectations. This is not Interstellar 2.
And thats definitely not a bad thing. True to the book with the same title, by author Andy Weir, most of the film is spent in the science of space. Damon’s Watney, self-proclaimed as “the greatest botanist” on Mars, is a snarky ball of smarts whose never-ending determination sends him on a journey that’s often one step forward, two steps back. Other notable performances come from Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejifor as the two charged with bringing Watney back alive, as well as Jessica Chastain who commands the Hermes spaceship. Unfortunately, most of the cast feels incredibly flat and the characters are mostly uninteresting and shallow. Most of the time this is compensated by the fact that in the next scene Matt Damon will come in and make things interesting again but prepare yourself for a good stretch of screen time sans-Damon.
Even though The Martian has a terrific ensemble its a bummer that so few of the cast have characters that are remotely compelling. This feels like its more of a problem with the script/dialogue that at times feels a little cheesy and clunky. And a good handful of solutions were explained with a simple “we’ve done the math, it all checks out.” But that’s just Hollywood for you.
A Quick Comparison:
We’ve had 3 solid space films come out within the last couple of years that were all entertaining rides. Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity astounded us with a tremendously beautiful presentation of sights and danger and Sandra Bullock gave an Oscar-nominated performance for her solo space outing. Nolan’s Intersterllar took us on the thrilling space adventure that some might be looking for here with The Martian. It took us to amazing new worlds and made us wonder about the possibility of leaving our home to save our world. Even Matt Damon pops up as a guy whose been marooned on an abandoned planet and is forced to survive…wait.. Kind of the exact same plot for The Martian. Oh, well. Moving on.
When it comes to solitude and overcoming the ever increasing odds of death, I think Sandra Bullock did it better. Hell, if we’re talking disastrous space events and lonely desolation, Tom Hanks truly did it THE BEST. But due to the sometimes lacking script, Damon doesn’t fare as well. Even when Gravity‘s script was lacking it made up for it with beautiful scenery. Not so much here with the depressingly red dirt and brown skies.
It may not be as good as Interstellar but if your’e into space even the tiniest bit you should definitely check out The Martian. And next year you can catch Matt Damon in the ever anticipated Bourne sequel. I hear its about Bourne being marooned on an empty planet in space and is forced to figure out how to survive all alone. Man, where do they get these ideas??